Sunday, January 30, 2022

Vox Machina: Good for a Few Laughs


TL;DR: it’s ok.


How’s that for brief?


Ok, seriously, it’s got some fun moments, but isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.  Better?


Digging in a bit more, it looks in many ways like a D&D campaign.  The world (read DM) is largely the straight man who gets to be the butt of the players’ jokes.  (A palace guard who bears an uncanny resemblance to Matt Mercer in episode three kinda rubs our noses in it.)  While the world mostly plays it straight, the PCs engage in all manner of shenanigans that range from the anachronistic to the post-modern to the disturbingly bloody.  There’s a running gag with a severed hand in the first episode that almost doesn’t work because it skirts to the edge of being too graphic, and probably crosses it for some folks.


The thing is, all of this stuff is exactly what happens at our D&D tables: jokes about the bard out seducing people, the “innocent” character barfing after having half a drink, the character who steals unattended drinks in the middle of a bar fight, the endless scatological humor, the jumping-to-conclusions, the joke about the giant pile that results when the PCs are told to leave their weapons behind.


And then there are the things that don’t feel like D&D at all.  There’s a gunslinger character who appears to have the only firearm in the entire world, and that’s all he can do: shoot things.  When his gun works.  The druid’s only spell is summoning giant thorny vines.  The ranger doesn’t appear to have any spells at all.  The cleric’s magic looks about right, and runs the range from healing to enchanting the weapons of others, but is unreliable, failing even to work sometimes. 


Plotwise, this is very paint-by-numbers.  You’ll see the big surprise twist in Episode Two probably in Episode One.  You’ve seen this all before so many times that even the “shocking, OMG where did that come from” moments are anything but.  Most of the characters are tormented by past tragedies or self-doubts that quickly get shed when they need to be heroic.


That all said, it is entertaining.  Willingham’s barbarian Grog Strongjaw is a one-note joke, but its utter lack of tragic backstory or self-doubt stands out and is refreshing.  The action involves a lot of swooping, spinning camera that moves smoothly and draws you in. 


The real stand-out performance comes from Riegel’s Scanlan.  He provides the biggest laughs, the bawdiest moments (mostly in the first episode), and the most uplifting stand-up-and-cheer moments during the action scenes.  And his songs are a real hoot, especially the one in the third episode.


About the only thing you’ll likely steal for your own campaign is a blue dragon using the conductivity of the gold in its hoard to zap characters hiding behind cover.  The most interesting magic item in the first three episodes has been a blood-drinking sword, but we’ve all done that before.  The look is so generic gamer-fantasy that it won’t even occur to you to screen-cap anything to use as a visual prop in your games.  Even the villains are straight out of central casting.


So yeah: good for a few laughs, a fine way to pass a lazy afternoon or to kill time after dental surgery (ask me how I know), but probably not something you’ll be returning to unless the later episodes really hit it out of the park. 




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